by Bill Chambers The problem with 2005's Land of the Dead is that it could've been made by virtually anybody at virtually any time. While I imagine that George A. Romero, stalwart hippie that he is, has an anticapitalist streak a mile wide, that picture's "eat the rich" trajectory ultimately felt like a rather flimsy pretext for Romero to resume chronicling social change through the prism of his precious undead. Given that the "Dead" films have typically had long incubation periods, it's surprising to see Romero return to the well so soon, but then it was probably best to hit the reset button post-haste. George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead does just that in more ways than one: Here, Romero disentangles himself from the cul-de-sac of a zombie-human détente by starting from scratch in the present tense, making this the Casino Royale of the series.
Technically, this is a film-within-a-film credited to one "Jason Creed," a film student who obsessively documents the road trip undertaken by his friends in the wake of a zombie outbreak. "The Death of Death" recasts the antihero of Michael Powell's Peeping Tom as a snuff filmmaker of societal (as opposed to parental) conditioning. One of the most appealing aspects of Diary, in fact, is that it brings to mind Romero's stories of staying up all night with Martin Scorsese, projecting films like Powell's on a bed sheet and idealizing cinema as the Lefty's secret weapon. To that end, it combines the spirit of youth--HD seems to have reawakened in Romero a sense of mischief--with the wisdom of age; this is the least hopeful entry since the first, Night of the Living Dead, probably because Romero has lived long enough to see history repeat itself.
Unfortunately, Diary is almost ruinously tainted by the modern compulsion to spell out the subtextual commentary on the zeitgeist for the stupid kids--you'd be under the table pretty quick if you had to take a shot every time the abrasively-sanctimonious heroine (Eliza Dushku clone Michelle Morgan) sneers into the camera some variation on the line, "So if you don't film it, it's like it never happened." (Imagine a character in Dawn of the Dead observing, "Wow, zombies descending on a shopping mall is quite the metaphor for consumerism." (Okay, so that did kinda happen, but still.)) By rarely allowing the movie's meta aspects, Abu Ghraib parallels, et al to speak for themselves, Romero throws the fundamental cheapness of the Toronto-lensed production into stark relief, giving the material basic a Sci-Fi Channel patina it simply doesn't deserve. Programme: Midnight Madness (Originally published: September 15, 2007.)